ANDIE HARPER: At the start of 2013 a Vision was announced and outlined for Wisbech, a town fed up with its own image. Cambridgeshire County Council, Fenland District Council and Steve Barclay the MP for the area got together and devised Wisbech 2020, a plan of positive changes to implement in the town by 2020. The then Leader of Fenland District Council, Alan Melton, explained the plans to Paul Stainton on the Bigger Breakfast Show back in January 2013.
PAUL STAINTON: So what is this Vision? What is this future for Wisbech? The future’s bright, the future’s Wisbech. What is it?
ALAN MELTON: Well the future will be bright, and the future is Wisbech. It came about because a lot of bad publicity around Wisbech. Everybody says, in a sentence that includes the word Wisbech, deprivation, dilapidation, dilapidated buildings, poor infrastructure. This is something that we wish to address, and over the coming years as part of the 2020 Vision we’re going to be very proactive in addressing these problems.
PAUL STAINTON: What is the Vision then?
ALAN MELTON: The Vision is better education, better skills, better infrastructure, better buildings, better quality of life.
PAUL STAINTON: So it’s a wish-list basically.
ALAN MELTON: In the present economic circumstances you could say it’s a wish-list. It’s something that we can work to. We have some short-term aims, and we have some long-term aims.
PAUL STAINTON: It’s 2020 Alan. OK?
ALAN MELTON: Yes.
PAUL STAINTON: Close your eyes.
ALAN MELTON: Yes.
PAUL STAINTON: Everybody in Wisbech close your eyes. It’s 2020.
ALAN MELTON: (LAUGHS)
PAUL STAIN TON: What does Wisbech look like?
ALAN MELTON: Wisbech looks better because the buildings and quality are better. By then the old dilapidated buildings would have been removed. The infrastructure would be improved. The only thing that I don’t think we should get by 2020, and I’m a realist, is the A47 dualling.
PAUL STAINTON: Alan it’s a dream for Wisbech. Let’s hope one day that dream comes true.
ALAN MELTON: You’ve got to follow your dreams Paul. You’ve got to follow your dreams.
ANDIE HARPER: FDC Council Leader at the time Alan Melton talking to Paul Stainton. Well just under eighteen months on we’ve been contacted by a councillor who wants to know the progress of at least the short-term targets that Alan mentioned. Independent councillor Virginia Bucknor says a meeting had been planned to deliver key updates, but now it’s been postponed, seemingly indefinitely. When I spoke to her she was very cross.
VIRGINIA BUCKNOR: Wisbech 2020 Vision was launched in April 2012, that’s over two years ago, because of our outcry at the continued lack of investment for Wisbech. It’s now been clearly acknowledged that Wisbech was just getting the crumbs from the table. We have no railway station, no dual-carriageway, etcetera. And a population including immediate villages of 38,000 and we’ve got no infrastructure. So this was set up to find out what people wanted in the community. We had a series of ten, eleven meetings over that summer of 2012. Each meeting was about three and a half hours. I attended every one of those meetings bar one, because I was so committed to the importance of it. And then finally a list of short, medium and long-term objectives was formed, and that was published in January 2013. Now nobody expects anything to be done immediately. But these were short, medium and long-term, and the short was quick win for 2014. But since January 2013 there has been nothing.
ANDIE HARPER: Why do you think this is?
VIRGINIA BUCKNOR: I can’t answer that. I’m just frustrated. I didn’t expect immediate responses, but I have been asking since January 2014, where we are with the medium and short-term. The short-terms were considered quick wins that would be easily achievable. So I think that’s reasonable to ask what’s happening. Now we all know that to turn ideas into reality, and not just spin, it needs the political will to continue to drive it forward. Now we may have had changes of Leaders in May, but I’ve been asking since January and been getting promises about where we are, and we’ll come back, we’ll let you know in March, we’ll let you know in April, we’ll let you know in May. Oh we just had a by-election call, we can’t tell you now. It’s just unacceptable.
ANDIE HARPER: You made your displeasure known to our reporter Johnnie D. We have then spoken to the Vision partners, the Wisbech 2020 Vision partners, and they have sent us this statement. So if I can just read it to you, perhaps then you’d like to comment on the back of it. And it says:
“There is no question of the Wisbech 2020 Vision project being forgotten or pushed to one side. It remains a priority for all the partners involved. The Summit update originally planned for May had to be postponed because of election purdah restrictions, and postponement was also sensible in view of the recent elections of new Leaders for both the District and County Councils. We are now planning to hold the Summit in the autumn, following the summer holidays. A precise date has yet to be decided. Meanwhile a great deal of work is continuing on all aspects of the project. That includes continuing to lobby for the re-instatement of the rail link between Wisbech and March, and for the dualling of the A47. We hope to be able to report on progress in both of those areas as well as all the other key elements of the Vision at the rearranged meeting.”
So that’s what they say. Is that enough for you?
VIRGINIA BUCKNOR: I don’t understand. If you cancelled a meeting, or I cancelled a meeting, and that was cancelled in April, you would then reschedule it. You wouldn’t say that because of holidays we can’t do anything, can’t tell you anything for a further five months. I find that extremely bizarre. I was at a meeting of Oversight and Scrutiny on Monday at Fenland District Council, and I asked. There were senior officers and Cabinet members there including the Cabinet member for Wisbech. And I said, look, where are we? What’s happening? Can we have some sort of update? And they said no we can’t give you anything. So I am really not interested in spin. My priority as an independent councillor for Wisbech is I just want to fight for Wisbech. I don’t want things being kicked into the long grass. And I’ve had all these promises, as I’ve said, for the last .. we’re getting into the sixth month of promising to give me updates. I don’t expect full detailed analysis of the A47 and the railway. That’s a long-term. Steve Barclay I know has been working extremely hard to push that forward. That’s long-term. But these quick wins for 2014, we’ve had nothing since January 2013. I don’t think I’m being unreasonable. And I’m not the only councillor not being kept informed. That’s across all Fenland councillors. We’re not being kept informed. Now I understand we have new Leaders, but these new Leaders came on board in May. If it’s not stopped, if all this information they’re still working in the background, which I would like to believe is happening, why can’t we just get an interim report. It should be available now.
ANDIE HARPER: Independent councillor representing one of the wards in Wisbech, Virginia Bucknor.
CLARE MCPARTLAND: We’ve spoken to Cambridgeshire County Council this morning. They were keen to let me know that Steve Count the new Leader of the Council has actually directly emailed Virginia with all the updates, where the project currently is, how they’re getting on. It was extensive Andy. I’ll summarise it. It includes a feasibility study currently being completed on improvements to the A47. A debate was held in Parliament last month on the need to dual the full route. They are launching a major health campaign in two weeks. Steve met with GPs, Secretary of State for Health, the Council’s Director of Public Health amongst others. That will be launched in two weeks. Lots of changes to education around the County. They secured the largest pupil funding increase in the country, which starts next April. Thomas Clarkson in Wisbech is being rebuilt, so the school has new facilities. And a new primary school is planned to be built next to Thomas Clarkson ready for 2016. There have been improvements to the leisure facilities in the town, and a new six-screen cinema opening for example. And he also gave details on projects he’s working on that still require more work, such as sports funding for some tennis courts in Wisbech, arts funding, and resolving the problem of derelict buildings in the town. Obviously Andie this project was always outline, with a target of completion for 2010, so it’s not surprising that so many projects are being worked on.
ANDIE HARPER: But some progress has been made.
CLARE MCPARTLAND: But there has been progress, and they were keen to communicate that, and fair enough. They’re saying this is what we’ve done. There’s more. They haven’t covered everything in that email. Obviously Virginia is just frustrated because I think she’d like to have a meeting, to hear it all formally. But they have communicated that to her, so hopefully she’s now across everything that’s going on.